Jackson’s widowbird (Euplectes jacksoni)

French: Veuve de Jackson
GenusEuplectes (1)

Jackson’s widowbird is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1)

Jackson’s widowbird is a small bird that for most of the year has a rather dull appearance; streaky brown plumage, pink feet and a pink bill (2). However, during the breeding season the male transforms into a more alluring specimen in an attempt to attract a mate. Males develop glossy black breeding plumage, except for a brownish patch on the shoulders, and a bright blue-grey bill. They also grow a beautiful down-curled tail, about 20 centimetres long, and a glossy black collar. The male, which is about 40 percent heavier than the female, uses his new, showy plumage in a bizarre and elaborate jumping display to attract the dull females, which have yellowish-brown plumage and a short tail all year round (3).

Jackson’s widowbird occurs in the highlands of western and central Kenya and in the Ngorongoro highlands of northern Tanzania (4)

Jackson’s widowbird inhabits open grassland from 1,500 to 3,000 metres. It can also be found in tall grassland in some areas and in agricultural land, where it feeds (5)

Jackson’s widowbird is a lek-breeding bird, engaging in a system of breeding in which the males display communally, competing to attract a female with which to mate, and then take no part in caring for the eggs or chicks (3). They are polygynous birds and thus males mate with more than one female (3). To attract females, males establish “dancing grounds” in suitable grassland areas. By nipping off and treading down grass, the males create a defined circular smoothly-beaten track, about one metre across. A single tuft of grass is left in the centre in which the male forms two cup-shaped recesses on opposite sides by making short runs at the tuft with a lowered head. On the appearance of a female, the male faces the tuft of grass and begins his peculiar dance. Throwing his head back and arching his tail feathers, the male makes repeated jumps, up to one metre high, accompanied by a soft tinkling call (3) (6). The choosy females pick a mating partner based on the length of his tail and the rate of the jump display (3).

Female Jackson’s widowbirds visit the males’ dance rings solely for mating and undertake all nest duties on their own. The nest is a woven ball of grass built near the ground or in a dense tuft a little way above the ground (3).

The montane grassland habitat of the Jackson’s widowbird is threatened by the spread and intensification of agriculture and livestock production. Pastoralists commonly start fires in the dry season to control ticks, and thereby temporarily destroy important habitat for the widowbird (5).

In Tanzania, the Jackson’s widowbirds’ habitat is almost entirely protected in parks and reserves, such as Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Conservation Area. In Kenya though, montane grasslands are not so well protected (5). There are no known specific conservation measures in place for Jackson’s widowbird at present.

For further information on Jackson’s widowbird see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (October, 2007)
  2. Kenya Birds (October, 2007)
  3. Andersson, S. (1989) Sexual selection and cues for female choice in leks of Jackson’s widowbird Euplectes jacksoni. Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology, 25: 403 - 410.
  4. Alden, P.C., Estes, R.D., Schlitter, D. and McBride, B. (1995) Collins Guide to African Wildlife. HarperCollins Publishers, London.
  5. BirdLife International (October, 2007)
  6. Craig, A.J.F.K. (1980) Behaviour and ecology in the genus Euplectes. Journal of Ornithology, 121(2): 144 - 161.